“In Search of the Miraculous”

“The lack of a balance of intellect and vision in our lives leads to the pursuit of doubtful cults of the supra-rational.”

“Beyond such formal, religious affiliations, the hunger for wonders expresses itself in countless forms of pop psychiatry and lumpen occultism which thinly disguise the same impetuous quest for personal salvation.”

– Theodore Roszak, “In Search of the Miraculous

In his essay “In Search of the Miraculous”, historian Theodore Roszak looked at what he called the “hunger for wonders”.  This is an insecurity that comes from the human spiritual impulse that he claims is starved in our time.

This probably comes about when one feels that their life fails to realize their potential. We are told that everyone is unique and has something to offer while we sit in a cubicle meeting targets that have nothing really to do with us. It seems understandable, then, that so many of us would buy into false messiahs, get rich quick schemes, and promises of unearned enlightenment.

“Self-enslavement to easy absolutes and mad political messiahs: that is the poison tree that flourishes peculiarly in the Waste Land.”

Theodore Roszak wrote this essay in the 70’s, and yet it seems highly relevant to our current experience. He pointed to fads like “charismatic faith, mystical religion, oriental meditation, humanistic and transpersonal psychotherapy, altered states of consciousness” as examples of this human need that we are failing to meet in, what he probably perceived as more legitimate ways (one of which was the pursuits of Socrates, as he explains in the article).

He obviously couldn’t have predicted what this would look like today.  On Facebook, inspirational quote memes go viral. There is a bounty “bite-size widsom” pages with millions of followers.  Some are more directly spiritual while others are more practical, with memes saying things like “Your net worth is equal to your network”.  It is hard to miss clickbaity articles, the titles of which follow predictable patterns – “10 ways to earn passive income”, “5 ways to practice mindfulness”. Or it could be diet that says that if you only eat grass fed meat you’ll turn into a superhero.  There are lots of different ways of packaging what seems like the same thing, regardless of the form in which we consume them.

Regardless of the medium, they all seem to offer the same thing: convenient answers and a promise of quick results.  And by doing so, they seem to encourage people to continue the belief that got them in here in the first place: the assumption that, on your own, you can’t possibly create a fulfilling path for yourself because you aren’t good enough. So they continue to ignore themselves, don’t really develop themselves, and look for answers that never deliver unless this pivotal belief changes.

Many of these things are not without their merit.  Roszak pointed out the momentous rise of commercialized evangelical Christianity in the United States.  He was not outright claiming that it has no value, but he was pointing out where this need comes from and why we tend not meeting this need in our present situation.

The human will to transcendence, especially at the popular level, has been without counselor guidance. Untutored, it runs off into many dead ends and tours. It easily mistakes the sensational for the spiritual, the merely obscure for the authentically mysterious.